Free Shakespeare and Human Nature: King Lear Essay Sample
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This paper discusses why Shakespeare is certainly the master at showing the multiple facets of human nature as well as how our strengths and weaknesses create our experience. Shakespeare shows this through the use of characters such as king Lear, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, Duke of Burgundy, King of France, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Albany, Earl of Kent, Earl of Gloucester, Edgar, Edmund among others. According to the author, human nature is full of betrayal, love, ego, strength, wealth and power. Additionally, he shows that human nature can be entirely good or entirely evil.
The story rotates around a certain British king called Lear who decides to divide the country between his three daughters which they would use as dowry. This distribution shows the aspect of wealth in human nature (Kermode 12). Wealth is again highlighted when the king tells Regan that one is not human unless he/she possesses more than he/she requires. He argues that a person who is complacent with the possession of only that which he/she needs is in the level of a beast or animal. This clearly shows that of wealth is part of human nature.
He at the same time seeks to know how much his daughters love him before giving the land to them. Shakespeare shows the aspect of love in human nature through the two eldest daughters of Lear; Goneril and Regan who shower their father with praise in order to be rewarded generously (Kermode 13). Goneril claims to love his father more than words can wield the matter. She says that her father is dearer than eye-sight, space and liberty. She claims that she loves her father beyond what can be valued, rich or rare, a love that makes breath poor and speech unable (Kermode 13). Their praise earns them land and marriage to the duke of Albany and the duke of Cornwall respectively.
The author shows the other face of these two daughters when their father seeks to stay with them. Their claim for unconditional love for their father is clearly not genuine as they require him to reduce his followers from one hundred to fifty for them to accept to accommodate him (Floakes 20). Goneril also instructs her steward, Oswald to act coldly towards the king and this shows clearly that her claim, of love towards her father was not genuine. This shows that she is multifaceted. Genuine love is shown through the youngest daughter Cordelia, who says she loves her father as much as a daughter should(Floakes 22) . Because of her refusal to flatter her father, Cordelia doesn't inherit any land. Genuine love is also seen through the French king who takes Cordelia as the queen of France despite having inheritated no land. Conditional love is again shown through the duke of Burgundy who refuses an offer to take Cordelia because of her failure to get inheritance (Floakes 23). Cordelia loves her father honestly though she doesn't flatter him. She is contrasted by the author from the other daughters in the sense that unlike her sisters who flatter their father to get wealth, her honesty doesn't allow her to deviate from her morals (Floakes 23). Although she is banished because of her honesty, she remains loyal and loving to her father till the end. This can be seen from the following extract.
"Cordelia:- my father, restoration hang
Thy medicine on my lips, and let this kiss
Repair those violent harms that my two sisters
Have in reverence made" (Floakes 23)
She doesn't express bitterness towards her father for the injustice done to her. This character is crafted as having an entirely good nature and free from evil throughout.
The author shows the aspect of power in human nature through the king himself. Lear is presented as a character who enjoys absolute power and hates being challenged or even being contradicted . (Floakes 25) The aspect of power is also shown through the youngest daughter who raises an army to defeat the two other daughters and restore his father to his kingdom. The author shows that power corrupts since the power that Lear gives to Goneril and Regan ends up making them treacherous and deceitful. The two daughters are shown to love power to the extent of showering their father with praise in order to have it given to them (Floakes 26). The two daughters are corrupted by power such that they try to make their father appear as incompetent by referring to him as the idle old man in front of everyone (Floakes 26). This again emphasizes the fact that the love they claimed to have for their father was not genuine. In order to absolutely strip power from their father, the two daughters command him to reduce his service men from one hundred to fifty and later up to twenty five . (Floakes 27)
The aspect of betrayal is shown through the character called Edmund. He betrays Gloucester to Cornwall, Regan and Goneril by showing a letter from his father to the king of France seeking assistance against them (McLaughlin 33). This leads to the arrest of Gloucester and subsequent gouging out of his eyes by Cornwall. In response to this, one of Cornwall's servants attacks and fatally wounds him. Edmund's evil nature was again evidenced when he instructed his captain to take Lear and Cordelia to prison and kill them while at the same time making it appear like they committed suicide (McLaughlin 33). Betrayal is again seen when Edmund forges a letter which he shows to his father. In this letter, Edmund tries to make it appear like Edgar intents to take his father's lands and revenues in collaboration with him. Edmund later advices Edgar to flee and then injures himself and tries to make it appear like he was attached by him (McLaughlin 34).
Ego is also considered a key aspect of human nature by the author. At the beginning of the play, king Lear is shown to hold his image superior to the life of his youngest daughter. By failing to flatter him in order to boost his ego, she is denied inheritance and this clearly shows how the king values his ego (McLaughlin 35 ). The two elder daughters shower him with praise and for this, they are rewarded generously. The importance of image attributes is again shown when Kent goes to the king soon after he disguises himself as banished (McLaughlin 36). Kent's intention here is to get employed as a servant by the king . He praises the king in order to achieve his goal. This is evidenced by the extract below.
Lear: does though know me fellow?
Kent: No, sir, but you have that countenance which I would fain call master
Lear: what's that?
Kent: Authority (McLaughlin 36).
This praise eventually earns him the job. The king's desire for ego reinforcement is again evidenced by his intention to keep one hundred knights. They basically boost his ego by constantly praising him and that's why he is reluctant to reduce them when instructed to do so by his daughters. The king also uses them as a subject on which to exercise his command hence boosting his ego (Ball 11).
The author through this literature shows how our strengths and weaknesses create our experience. For instance, king Lear commits various mistakes which strip him off his
strength, arrogance and pride towards the end of the play (Kermode 22). His weakness of desiring praise always ends up making him make mistakes as far as the distribution of his wealth is concerned. The king's anger over his last confrontation with his family and the storm mark the beginning of his transformation (Kermode 23). He ends up being poor, infirm and despised old man. The king's experiences, weaknesses and strengths finally transformed him from a hateful old king into a loving figure as seen in his desire to reconcile with his daughter (Kermode 23).
In conclusion, this paper has discussed key aspects of human nature such as betrayal, love, ego, strength, wealth and power through an analysis of various character traits of the characters. Goneril and Regan are seen to fake love towards their father with the intention of inheriting from him. They are seen to exhibit different character traits at different times in order to achieve a selfish end. Cordelia on the other hand is seen to portray some consistence since she remains loving and loyal to her father throughout. The aspect of betrayal has also been discussed with Edmund being the character who portrays this. Wealth has also been discussed a Lear's words being used to emphasize its importance. Lastly, ego has been discussed as a key aspect of human nature. The king's desire for constant praise has been used to emphasize this. Finally, the paper has discussed how our strengths and weaknesses shape our life. King Lear has been used as a case in point. His decisions have had a lot of influence on his future life. For instance, his decision to give his wealth to only two of his daughters has been discussed as greatly contributing to his ultimate downfall since this gives them power which they eventually abuse.